Hester Among the Ruins by Binnie Kirshenbaum

Hester Among the Ruins is one of those fantastic books that sat atop my mantle for about a year. I’ve wanted to read but it always got pushed aside by other less-fantastic books I’ve been obligated to read.

This book was both “literary” and a “fast read” (I find this division between what is literary and what is not, very peculiar) . The marketing person behind the book cover design should be given a swift kick to the pants for leaning towards “chick lit.” Unfortunately, the author gets stuck with these fuzzy lens photos–often of women’s legs–quite often and much to her chagrin.

Hester is a fortyish academic from New York City who travels to Munich after the reunification but still during the era of the Deutsche Mark. She begins an affair with the German professor whom she is researching and writing a book about. But she is determined to find out the real story about his background, mostly surrounding events during WWII & Nazi occupied Germany. Interspersed with Hester’s narration, she puts snippets of academic texts, memoirs, and strange love letters that the German professor writers to her (awkward English and all).

Hester is attractive, smart and no nonsense. She has a quick wit and black sense of humor. If someone like Jonathan Franzen wrote Hester, I’m sure the publisher would put the title in big bold capital letters (à la Freedom).

But enough of my complaining. The book was fabulous and I very much enjoyed all of the little observations about the very specific quirks of Germans (example, not crossing the street until the pedestrian light comes on even if ABSOLUTELY NO cars are coming).


  1. Hmmm – actually I visited Germany during that same post-unification pre-Euro period, and from what I saw Germans cross streets by “Philadelphia rules” – that is, check for oncoming traffic, and if there isn’t any, go for it, especially if there’s a crowd to all jaywalk together. Maybe a different area of the country? (I saw the Frankfurt-to-Heidelberg section.)

    1. It is rampant. I especially noticed the no crossing against traffic phenomena in Berlin. My German friends in NYC have a bit of trouble when it comes to “rules.” This is one they can’t seem to shake while traversing the streets of Manhattan.

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